A person belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community enters college with a mixture of feelings. There’s excitement to be able to explore various aspects of their sexuality or gender identity but there is also fear and anxiety over not being accepted by peers. It is a never-ending loop of, “Will this person accept and support me for who I truly am, or will they judge me and try to suppress me into society’s rigid boxes?”
A cisgender heterosexual person enters college and is exposed to many different sexualities and gender identities. Understanding unfamiliar terms may seem like a task but most people try to learn and respect the various identities. Though there are some people, who due to ignorance, use derogatory slurs instead. Unfortunately, these slurs have been normalized over the years and the people using them do not realize the damage they are causing.
Now, imagine a world where all the various sexualities and gender identities were authentically represented in mainstream media, which in return would destigmatize the LGBTQIA+ community. Seeing LGBTQIA+ individuals on-screen normalize their existence. Queer existence is de-stigmatized when these characters have intriguing inner lives and similar problems to those of cis-gendered heterosexual people.
While this is not the solution for all sexual and gender-based discrimination, it is a good place to start. This would also allow queer students to have a safer experience in college.
In the past 4-5 years queer representation in mainstream media has increased but the queer storylines still have the same old stereotypical characters. The LGBTQIA+ community tries so hard to not form stereotypes as to how one is supposed to dress up or act according to their identity but again through media society tries to put people into boxes. True self-discovery begins when one realizes that the walls of the box are meaningless, and nobody can stop them from being their true selves.
Authentic queer representation is particularly important as it challenges the stigmas and broadens people’s perspectives. It also gives people who are figuring out their identity the feeling of “being seen,” as seeing someone going through the same struggles makes people feel less alone and validates their experiences. In contrast, lack of representation frequently fosters hostile circumstances, which are extremely unpleasant for LGBTQIA+ people.
When a person comes out as anything other than straight, they are met with common misconceptions such as,
“It is just a phase”
“You’ll grow out of it”
“You are just doing this for attention”
“This choice will make your life hard”
What people do not realize is that before coming out, queer people take days, months, or even years to accept themselves. It is not a choice, no one would choose to lose family or have to fight for basic human rights. It is simply who a person is.
For cisgendered heterosexual people, seeing queer representation will expose them to the various identities much more gradually which will be easier to understand compared to the sudden bombardment of information regarding the various sexualities and genders.
Queer representation in mainstream media challenges the idea of compulsory heterosexuality (Comp het.), a concept that holds heterosexuality as the norm in society and labels everyone that does not abide by it “abnormal.” Just by existing on the screen, queer characters can mold perceptions in real life. Proper representation helps combat stereotypes and ignorance. And this is not just a theory.
A 2015 study found that, when heterosexual people are more exposed to queer characters on TV, they become more accepting of LGBTQIA+ equality. A 2020 survey by GLAAD showed that queer representation increased queer acceptance by 45%.
It is 2021, it is a shame that LGBTOIA+ individuals are still discriminated against and are often even denied basic human necessities like healthcare.
They are a part of the world and always have been. Instead of trying to suppress them and force them to fit into the binaries of society, they must be embraced and encouraged to live their true authentic lives. Queer representation helps people learn about the various sexualities and gender identities, this would help in making the world a more accepting and supportive place for LGBTQIA+ people.